Thursday, February 13, 2014

D. L. Moody : The People’s Preacher of the Gilded Age by Chris White

D. L. Moody

     Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899) was born in Northfield Massachusetts.  He came from an average family in terms of size and income and in terms of religious commitment the Moody family was nominally Christian.  When Moody’s father passed away at age 41 the family home was imperiled by their many creditors.  All the older children in the family helped support their mother by going to work.  D. L. Moody left school and went to Boston to work in his uncle’s shoe store. 

     During his time in Boston, Moody’s uncle required he attend church every Sunday.  Dwight was compliant with this but his main priority in life was pursuing his desire to make a fortune.  He was a decent young man  but it was quite clear to his class leader at the church Edward Kimball, that Moody needed Jesus.  One afternoon Kimball dropped in on him at work and confronts him with the gospel and his need for conversion.  That very afternoon Moody made a full commitment to Christ and his life completely changes.  Edward Kimball later recalled that never had he met a young person in all of his years of teaching classes whom he felt was least likely to convert and even more unlikely to serve the Lord in a public ministry.  Put another way, the conversion of D. L. Moody was truly a miracle.

     Shortly after his eighteenth birthday, Moody moves from Boston to Chicago.   He goes to work, but as a new Christian he realizes the most important thing is building the kingdom of God, not accumulating a fortune.  Moody’s initial ministry effort in Chicago is to form an outreach to the poor and the immigrants in the community.  He started with street children, but soon found himself ministering to their parents and as this progressed a church (now known as Moody Memorial) was formed. 

   In the mid-nineteenth century, Sunday school was not a church activity but an outreach to the unchurched.  Many immigrant children had to work all day to help their families instead of going to grammar school.  Sunday school offered a basic education for children and in the process preached the gospel to them.  Moody was known to attract kids with pieces of candy and pony rides.  His classes grew so big that soon he had an average attendance of 650 per week with a staff of 60 volunteers to run it.  It was such a point of excellence in Chicago in the day that when President-elect Abraham Lincoln was visiting in 1860, he actually came and spoke at one of Moody’s Sunday school meetings.

   Moody also served as the president of the Chicago YMCA  becoming an important catalyst for street evangelism throughout the growing city.  To this day, open air evangelism and house to house visitation remains a strong value in the Chicago churches.
When the Civil War started, Moody was a conscientious objector and would not fight because he felt as a servant of the Prince of Peace this would distort his message.  Despite this pacifist stand, he did travel to the war front many times in an effort to comfort and evangelize the Union and Confederate troops.

   Emma Dryer was a Chicago educator and great administrator that Moody came to know through his work and he approached her about developing a training program for women in the city to learn how to evangelize other women and children.  This idea caught on and was so successful that eventually the same was done for men.  This became the foundation of what became known later as the Moody Bible Institute. 

   In 1871 the Chicago fire destroyed his home, the church and the YMCA, and he went to New York City to seek donations to help rebuild the ministry facilities.  Moody’s recollection of that day was that the only thing of his that escaped the fire was his Bible and his reputation.  Actually, a little more escaped than that as his wife Emma saved a portrait of Dwight that a friend had painted for them.  This embarrassed Dwight greatly.  During this period Moody also had the experience of a Holy Spirit baptism which changed his life again.  This experience caused him to move from his more quiet evangelism and social work to focus on preaching the gospel alone.
   Moody never did return to Chicago to live, but rather moved to Northfield Massachusetts to a farm near his birthplace.  This was actually a good move for him as he needed a place of quiet to retreat and refresh having a busy public ministry.  It wasn’t long before Moody began organizing Bible conferences at his Northfield property and these would later become a real catalyst for world missions.  By 1915 it was estimated that nearly 5000 people went to the mission field as a result of these conferences.
   Through a series of events, he was invited to do some crusades in England, Scotland and Ireland, which eventually established him as a popular preaching evangelist.  When he returned to America after 2 years he found himself famous and in-demand as a speaker.  He and his song leader Ira Sankey developed a platform style which was to be imitated and repeated in coming generations.   Moody never sought formal ordination as a pastor and he dressed in business attire rather than the robes that were normally worn by ministers.  The non-clerical dress and his very plain spoken style greatly resonated with American audiences during the Gilded age.  The Moody-Sankey team traveled to many of America’s large cities and attracted crowds of 12-20,000 in attendance.  Their style was imitated and updated by later evangelists Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.

  Although it was invented by Charles Spurgeon, the “Wordless Book” was promoted heavily by D.L. Moody and he added to it a gold page which stood for heaven.  This has been used for generations to share the gospel with children and the illiterate around the world.
   Moody was an early supporter and promoter of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission.  He was also a friend of Andrew Murray the well-known preacher and devotional writer from South Africa.  Moody also had a friendship with Charles Spurgeon the great preacher of London but Spurgeon had difficulty understanding Moody’s work as an evangelist and revivalist and was sometimes critical.  Moody himself made it his mission in life to try to preach with the clarity that Spurgeon had for sharing the gospel.

   Moody never thought of himself as a great preacher, but an average one whom God had chosen to prosper his work.  Despite the great demands on his time and energy, Moody always made time for his family showing his love and constant concern for them.  Moody didn’t want to succeed in evangelizing the world and yet not live out the gospel at home.

Moody died in 1899 of congestive heart failure.  His wife Emma Revell Moody died in 1906.  All of the Moody’s children grew up to serve the Lord in Christian ministry.

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